by Lois Tverberg
I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. – Jeremiah 17:10
Jesus grew up hearing parables, and when he taught, he used this colorful method to illustrate his ideas. In a Hebraic culture which didn’t usually use abstractions, but rather talked in stories and pictures instead, parables were a way for them to develop and explain complex ideas about life and God.
One parable from the Talmud (1) gives a clever answer to a difficult question that we still discuss today. How will God judge us in light of the fact that our flesh tempts us? For instance, how does God deal with an alcoholic who has a family tendency toward alcoholism? How does he look at a man who struggles with homosexual thoughts? They tell this parable:
To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now he appointed two watchmen, one lame and the other blind. One day the lame man said to the blind man, “I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Put me on your shoulders so that we can pick and eat them.” So the lame man got on the shoulders of the blind man and they gathered the figs and ate them.
Some time later, the owner of the orchard came and asked them, “Where are those beautiful figs?” The lame man replied, “Do I have feet to walk with?” The blind man replied, “Do I have eyes to see with?” What did the owner do? He placed the lame man upon the blind man and judged them together. So the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the soul, replace it in the body and judge them together…. (Sanhedrin 91a-b)
The king in the parable is God, which is usually the case in parables, and gives us a clue to who the king is in Jesus’ parables. Each of the two disabled men represent part of a person – the lame man is the person’s will, and the blind man is the flesh. Neither part is capable of sinning on its own — both act together in order to do anything. The point is that when God looks at us, he sees us as a whole — he knows what we are made of. We are a combination of factors including family history, mental make-up, religious upbringing, etc, and both our background and our own will work together to influence our actions.
Knowing this can give us wisdom for living. On the one hand, realizing that we have a background or personality type that will tend to lead us into a certain sin (like an abusive family or a tendency to anger), we must go out of the way to avoid what we might do impulsively. We can’t plead innocence, because we are responsible for what we have been given and what we have done with it. We’re capable of overcoming our weaknesses, at least to a point.
On the other hand, we should be careful to not to condemn each other because we can’t know all of a person’s struggles or what they might have lived through. Two people may be similar in action, but one may have triumphed over great temptations, and the other not using their many gifts. Only God knows these things, and only God is fit to judge us justly.
(1) The Talmud is the compendium of Jewish commentary gathered about 500 years after Jesus’ life.
Photo: Gyfjonas and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam